Here is a submission from David Daniels on the important question of who makes the decisions. It was published in the latest issue of the Mud Creek News and we copy it here as received.
WHO GOVERNS: COUNCIL OR A CABAL?
At the July 5th Committee of Council meeting, a Transportation Plan 2008, Amended 2010: Terms of Reference was introduced. The document states that “the CAO established a new working group comprised of Councillor Zimmerman as Chair, staff members Kevin Kerr and Gregg Morrison and Shannon Reed. . . The Mayor and CAO will serve as ex-officio.” When it came time to draft the Town’s recently adopted public participation (PP) policy, the CAO formed a working group. It was chaired by the CAO, and members included two non-elected, non-staff citizens, the Mayor and Councilor Mangle, staff and the two outside consultants. The meetings of these two working groups were not announced on the Town’s Calendar to my knowledge. It appears that the CAO chose who should be on these working groups, although it is unknown whether he sought advice from the Mayor or other Councilors. I attended a few of the PP working group meetings, having learned of their meeting times. I was not asked to leave. I sat and listened. I believe that at one meeting Deputy Mayor Simpson showed up and spoke. A municipality is governed by council. Municipal Government Act (MGA) s. 10. Section 14(1) of the MGA provides “The powers of a municipality are exercised by the council.” The Council has the power to establish committees (MGA s. 24) and the meetings of council and its committees are open to the public except in very limited circumstances, for example, when labour or personnel issues are to be discussed. The MGA at s. 31 sets out the responsibilities of the CAO. The section begins with: “The chief administrative officer shall . . .” And there then follows a list of things the CAO must do. Subsection 2 lists the things the CAO “may” do. There is nothing in the list of things the CAO must or may do which explicitly permits him to form “working groups”. Under subsection 1 the CAO must “carry out such additional duties and exercise such additional responsibilities as the council may, from time to time, direct.” Has Council has authorized the CAO to form working groups? The town does have a CAO Bylaw, but there is nothing there which permits the CAO to form working groups. Of interest is section 9 of the bylaw which provides the CAO does not have power to move into legislative authority. It may be that the CAO may have the authority to form working groups when such a groups are needed to assist the CAO in carrying out his administrative duties. But in the case of public participation working group, the working group produced a draft policy. The draft was discussed by the Council and public input sought prior to its adoption. However, in the end, the policy adopted by Council was very similar to the one drafted by the working group. The terms of reference proposed by the transportation working group has laid out how the public will be able to participate in writing the transportation plan. In effect, the working group has set out a policy which the Council will likely adopt. The fifth core principle of governance in the Town is: Transparency and Participatory Government. If the CAO’s “working groups” included just staff and outside experts, dealing with administrative or technical issues, then it would make sense to allow them. But in Wolfville, by either design or accident, working groups, with elected officials as members, address policy/legislative issues. These matters should be controlled by the Council and the public should know what’s going on. No study needs to be carried out to see the practices of other municipalities in regards to working groups. Other municipalities may not have transparency and participation as a principle of governance, and all municipalities need to follow the MGA.
Our thoughts [ ours not Mr. Daniels]: We repeat Thomas Sowell’s comment from the last post, i.e. that the most important decision is who makes the decisions. It is a timely issue as we see public servants in other jurisdictions removed for not following the directions of their elected governors. This is the basis for responsible government. If you don’t like the decisions you can and should vote them out. Voters have no control over bureaucrats. If bureaucrats follow their own preferences rather than those of the government we have no idea who is responsible as these decisions are hidden behind staff doors. This is no less true in the municipal setting , otherwise Council is just a rubber stamp. It seems to us that these working groups are a way to get around open decisions in Council.
We recall that there was an in camera meeting some time ago (on an early survey’s low response rate as we recall) that was questioned and the advice was (from the town solicitor?) that the Town could call it a working group to get around the complaint.